Hypertension is a silent killer. Do you know your numbers?

Hypertension is a silent killer. Do you know your numbers?

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is called the ‘silent killer’ because it does not cause many symptoms. As a result, most people don’t know that they have high blood pressure.

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?

High blood pressure can occur at any age, even in young children. The only way to know if you have hypertension is to measure your blood pressure using a blood pressure (BP) cuff. A doctor or a nurse can do this for you.

The BP cuff provides two numbers that measure the pressure in your blood vessels. The top number is called “systolic blood pressure,” and bottom number is called “diastolic blood pressure.”

Your doctor will determine if you have hypertension using the following numbers

  • Healthy blood pressure:          120/80 mmHg or lower
  • Pre-hypertension:                    121-81 mmHg to 139/89 mmHg
  • Hypertension:                          140/90 mmHg or greater

What are the risk factors for high blood pressure?

Risk factors are traits that make you more likely to have an illness compared to other people. The risk factors for hypertension include:

  1. Lifestyle

Smoking and alcohol increase blood pressure, while regular physical activity lowers blood pressure.

  1. WeightYou are more likely to have high blood pressure if you are overweight or obese. Use your BMI (body mass index) to determine if you are overweight. We discuss how to do this in detail here.
  2. Age

Anyone over the age of 60 has a higher risk for hypertension. However, it is beginning to occur at early ages because more young people are overweight.

  1. Race or ethnicity

High blood pressure is more common in certain races or ethnicities. People with African American heritage are more likely to have high blood pressure, and it may occur earlier in life. Certain blood pressure medications work better for this group. So be sure to talk to your doctor about the best drugs to control your hypertension.

  1. GenderMen are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure before age 55. After age 55, high blood pressure is more common in women.

High blood pressure: What’s the big deal?

Because hypertension causes few symptoms, most people don’t understand why it is dangerous. But over time, high blood pressure causes heart attack and strokes. These are the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, one in four people will die from heart disease.

Hypertension is deadly because high pressures put strain on your heart and blood vessels. Over time, this damages your organs. Especially your brain, kidneys, and eyes.

Long term effects of hypertension include:

  • Stroke (brain damage)
  • Artery disease
  • Damage to eye sight
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure

By the time these happen, the effects may not be reversible. So it is important that you prevent hypertension before it happens.

How can I treat hypertension?

The best treatment is prevention. This means addressing risk factors before they cause high blood pressure. The most important changes to make are:

  1. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight is the best way to prevent heart disease and death
  2. Don’t smoke. If you need help to quit smoking, you can find resources here.
  3. Get regular physical exercise, including walking and taking the stairs.
  4. See your doctor regularly to track your blood pressure, especially if you have risk factors. Besides lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe you medications to lower blood pressure.


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